Be childlike, not childish–What we can learn about writing from kids

We now—joyfully—have 2 1/2 literate kids in our household. (The 1/2 is only 5. Cut her some slack.) One of the interesting things in my life lately has been watching them become writers, as well. I think we adults can learn a thing or two from their learning curve.

1) Kids enjoy writing about what they like. However, one of the things that makes them better writers is writing about things outside their comfort zone.  It’s a lot easier to get my 10 year old to write about cars or maps, but his writing skills have been built up greatly by writing all those friendly letters, book reports, essays, and so on that get assigned as homework or classwork. When was the last time you wrote something outside YOUR comfort zone? I know professional writers who only write personal essays, or those who have always exclusively written for kids. Try a little of everything. Mix it up. It’ll surprise you.

Watch out! Your bookworm might just become a writer!

2) Kids try to copy what they like to read. They’ll borrow liberally from Captain Underpants, Tintin, and the like. They recognize excellence and strive to emulate it. Of course, we want writers to develop their own voice (and never, ever plagiarize), but there’s nothing wrong from learning from the greats. So do a little pastiche–you’ll get a childlike pleasure from it, and brush up your skills, too.

3) There might be obstacles in the way. The right tools can help. One of my kids has a graphomotor problem. Upon advice, we bought him pencils with fatter leads. What a difference. And now he usually types writing assignments. So much easier for him. Another of my kids is so young, she hasn’t learned to spell yet. Relying on invented spelling allows her to communicate on paper, and she’s so pleased with the result she does a little dance (really, she does). If your inner kid has problems with writing, break it down and see if there’s a solution. Don’t just give up.

4) Kids love to draw in the margins. Half of my kids’ writing is illustrated. Even if those pictures never see the light of day, doodle if it loosens up your creative process.

5) Sometimes you just gotta do things differently than most people. We recently discovered our youngest child is a lefty. For months, she was frustrated in her attempts to handle crayons, paper, and scissors. Then we noticed that she used her left hand for eating, pointing, and carrying things. Now that we’re coaching her to hold the pencil correctly in her left hand, to position the paper properly and so on, she’s better able to scribble and color. Lesson: You have to adopt the methods that allow you produce quality material, even if the way you do it differs from those around you. Stubbornly following the crowd would be–well, childish!


4 thoughts on “Be childlike, not childish–What we can learn about writing from kids

  1. When one of my sons was in 6th grade, he had a fabulous writing teacher, and I noted that most of my son’s essays revolved around silly “in-jokes” that he and his peers had discussed. The teacher still gave him full credit because the essays were constructed well. But it led me to believe that kids like to write to impress their peers…so maybe that teaches us to write what we know others will enjoy. So much for my opinion on this. Great post!!


  2. My 10-year-old has no diagnosed issue, but he HATES to (physically) write. He’s very creative, though, and we found that if we let him use the computer, he’s very happy to do his English homework and to write long, involved stories with lots of dialogue. And simple computer illustrations. The next project is to teach him to type properly so he can go a little faster.


    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Marilyn! My son also gets frustrated when he has to write long assignments or stories because of the speed at which he types. I think that sometimes kids’ brains go faster than their hands! Probably the best way to pick up speed in typing is practice, but a couple people have told me that they used one of the computer programs out there that teaches kids to type. I wonder if any readers have heard any recommendations on which program is best. If you have, please share it with us!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s